A phrase I’ve often heard from colleagues when discussing ‘accountability’ is: ‘I know what I need to do, but not how to do it’. Moving beyond theory to the practical – to actually closing the feedback loop – is notoriously challenging. Especially in an emergency. How do we really listen to communities? Can we really acknowledge their inputs and opinions, provide answers and if appropriate correct or adapt our activities?
Over the past year, the Emergency Lab has been working in a number of humanitarian contexts – including the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, and Uganda – where we’ve been supporting operations to establish and strengthen their feedback mechanisms. Based on this experience, and specifically drawing on learning from the inter-agency feedback system in fYR Macedonia, we’ve drafted ten key steps to setting up an effective mechanism.
Full details of the fYR Macedonia case study, practical tips and a ‘how to’ can be found here. The mechanism there used Kobo Toolbox – an online data collection tool – to support data collection, visualization, and analysis. Our team in fYR Macedonia reported that this tool was not only easy to set-up and run, but that it reinforced the feeling of ‘being listened to’ amongst community members.
We welcome your thoughts on these top 10 steps; based on your experience what would you change or substitute?
- Define the Challenge: Consult with communities and humanitarian responders to work out what barriers are preventing feedback being listened to and acted on. This homework stage is essential.
- TIPS: Work out where the problems really lie – these can include lack of staffing, poor or non-existent communication channels, non-working technology, bad data management and confused information flows.
- Don’t duplicate efforts: Build on existing staff capacities and work with established services to ensure sustainability.
- TIPS: Work out what activities are already underway and build on these, identify which community members, partners, and staff you can work with.
- Use the community’s preferred communication channels: Engage with them through channels they like and trust.
- TIPS: Conduct an Information and Communication Needs Assessment – different groups and individuals prefer different channels.
- Coordinate: Have clear commitment and agreement on roles and responsibilities, both internally and inter-agency.
- TIPS: Draft Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which clearly indicate the agreed commitments, timeframe for follow-up, as well as different agency/individual roles.
- Focus on what you need to know to make improvements: Design your mechanism to collect structured data that enables you to make decisions and take action at the right time.
- TIPS: Mobile data collection enables quick collation, is time-efficient and reduces errors – it also enables the capture of standardized data based through structured questionnaires. Design your questionnaire with decision makers so that they define what is information is collected.
- Prepare for sensitive issues: Ensure you have the resources and appropriate channels to create a safe and confidential space for reporting.
- TIPS: Provide private areas and/or channels for discussion and reiterate the confidentiality of the information being shared. Always consider gender and age dynamics of staffing and ensure they know how to escalate/refer the sensitive issues they receive.
- Test and refine: Speak to those using the mechanism and iterate your design to ensure effectiveness.
- TIPS: Consult with communities to understand why/why not they are using the mechanism.
- Enable evolution: Adapt your mechanism to the changing dynamics of the response – go back to the drawing board if necessary.
- TIPS: The more channels you establish the less risk there is of complete loss of engagement with a community if access to one fails.
- Make data digestible: Visualise your data, show trends and find the right forum(s) for sharing to make it accessible.
- TIPS: Mobile data collection tools help you to easily pull your data into charts – show trends for different groups and clearly highlight priority concerns for follow-up.
- Demonstrate you’ve listened: Proactively explain the changes you’ve made and why certain actions sometimes cannot be taken.
- TIPS: Don’t wait until the community is frustrated by the lack of feedback make sure a key responsibility of the mechanism is to ‘close the loop’. The loop needs to be closed through preferred and trusted channels.
Good luck implementing your own feedback mechanisms. Please do share any experience you have putting these steps into practice – within your own operation, organization or at the interagency level. Feedback is always welcomed!
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